Photo: UNDP

UNDP Data Strategy – Microsoft and UNICC Help Accelerate Delivery

Microsoft Azure Power Hour Features UNDP‘s Data Futures Platform and NextGen Data Hub

Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact group hosted UNDP and UNICC for its 9 September 2021 Azure Power Hour to discuss UNDP’s new, integrated data platforms that aim to forge novel data capabilities and drive results in delivering on the Agenda 2030.

With an audience of some 100 participants from a number of UN Agencies, the event was an excellent opportunity to showcase the collaboration between Microsoft, UNDP and UNICC and share a roadmap of opportunities for other organizations to embrace a unified data strategy.

UNICC works as an extension of our technology team. If you look at UNDP tech portfolios you will see that for many services UNICC provides support and advanced solutions in order to complete a project or service.

Diwen Xu, Application Delivery and Data Warehousing Lead, UNDP

The Azure Power Hour focused on UNDP’s data strategy, aligned to the UN Secretary-General’s Data Strategy, with its vision to building a UNDP ecosystem that unlocks full data potential for better decisions and stronger support to people and the planet. Presenters shared the fostering enablers of the UNDP Data Strategy, from people and culture to data governance, partnerships and technology to deliver a transformative environment for better insights and quality decision-making.

UNDP’s Gayan Peiris, Data and Technology Strategist, together with Diwen Xu, Application Delivery and Data Warehousing Lead, discussed UNDP‘s data governance model and the current UNDP data platform landscape (with multitudes of unconnected data platforms and data sources). They also presented the organization’s plan for a unified data environment, with a central data architecture, data lake, optimised data catalogue and dashboards, all hosted in Microsoft Azure.

Effective and ethical use of data rests on the three pillars of data governance, people and technology.  Data governance is the process of managing availability, usability, integrity and security of data in UNDP’s enterprise systems, based on internal data standards and policies that control data usage.

An effective data governance model ensures that data is consistent and trustworthy and doesn’t get misused. It’s increasingly critical as UNDP, like other UN Agencies, rely more on data analytics to help optimize operations and drive business decision-making across the organization. UNDP’s data governance program works to create standards and policies for governing data, as well as data implementation and enforcement procedures.

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UNDP Data Strategy governance. Credit: UNDP

Gayan Peiris detailed how UNDP is harnessing data to create a strategic asset for the organization, with two use cases in particular: the Data Futures Platform, an open access, interactive platform that aggregates multiple sources of information to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery efforts; and the NextGen Data Hub, a dedicated data and tools repository.  According to Gayan, these assets are helping streamline siloed initiatives across UNDP for a long-term, action-focused data strategy.

UNDP’s partnership with Microsoft started a year ago, with Microsoft sharing some of its AI and machine learning capabilities to support sustainble development practices. UNDP and UNICC are long standing partners working on technology projects and tools that enable swifter operations. The new Data and Analytics team at UNICC brought its expertise to bear on this new data roadmap path.

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Credit: UNDP (Data Futures Platform (https://data.undp.org/)

The UNDP Data Futures Platform

Drawing on data from across the UN System and its partners, the Data Futures Platform provides cutting-edge analyses, visualisations and simulations that focus on the most critical COVID-19 recovery challenges in an interactive way, for rapid decision making. The platform provides a global dashboard for vaccine equity, an assessment tool on the impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs, data and insights from UN75 and a Global Recovery Observatory that brings transparency to government spending during the pandemic.

Diwen Xu presented the technical aspects of the unified data hub architecture, which has a dedicated repository of data for operational and programme use, self-service capabilities, and an integration hub for UN-wide and external data sharing capabiilties.

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Credit: UNDP

He went on to discuss how UNDP is going to intake data sets, perform analytics and visualise the data.

Diwen added that UNICC has been working as an extension of UNDP”s technology team, with the added benefits of a first rate Data and Analytics team now in place. UNICC provides support and advanced services to UNDP technology portfolios, including data and analytics innovations.

NextGen Data Hub

Together with Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Unit, UNICC, Gayan and Diwen talked about UNDP’s NextGen Data Hub, a unified data architecture which UNICC and UNDP are working on. UNICC is helping design and implement a new generation of improved cloud data to be included in the architecture.

Gartner (2019) provides an interesting perspective on an integrated data hub: “it’s not technology, but an approach to effectively determine where, when and for whom data needs to be mediated, shared and then linked and/or persisted. A data hub is a logical architecture which enables data sharing by connecting producers of data (applications, processes, and teams) with consumers of data (other applications, process, and teams). Endpoints interact with the data hub, provisioning data or receiving data and the hub provides a point of governance, mediation, and visibility as to how data is flowing within the enterprise.“

The NextGen Data Hub, which is based on Microsoft Azure cloud services, will be able to ingest, store, analyze, model, structure, catalogue and share all kind of data sets in a modern, privacy-protecting, and cost-effective way. It will interact and inter-operate with other cloud data providers. This new cloud data platform will allow UNDP to become a more predictive and advanced, data-driven organization. The existing data components, hosted at a UNICC data centre, will be migrated into this new data platform.

We are building a system to collect and analyse data transparently, responsibly and effectively, ensuring adequate workforce capacity and expertise, with the right investments in green technology, architecture, infrastructure and tools to make UNDP a data-centered organization.

Francisco Alcázar, UNICC data focal point for the UNDP NextGen Data Hub

The NextGen data platform will integrate some new capabilities and services, such as data governance and catalogue services implemented using Azure Purview, some advanced analytics components for AI and machine learning, cognitive services and text document analysis using Azure Synapse, a new data hub portal and an API management gateway for internal and external/public users. The platform will also support integration of third-party services for legacy applications.

UNICC improved and implemented the analysis and first steps by Microsoft to deliver the full, cloud-based data platform solution using Azure data services.

The NextGen data platform leverages the best expertise and support from Microsoft and UNICC. Future plans for the platform include integration with other cloud-based services.


Photo: UNRWA

UNICC’s IATI Publishing Solution Helps Clients with IATI Transparency Compliance


In the digital transformation of the United Nations, UNICC’s Application Development team is paving the path towards UN organizational transparency with its provisioning support for the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publishing solution: a composite application for assembling, formatting and reporting organizational data following the IATI standard.

Coordinating humanitarian response with good data solutions is critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Transparency is essential. Organizations that have joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) have committed to publishing information according to rules and guidance that experts in international development have honed and tested over time.

Launched in 2008, the IATI standard was developed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to ensure transparent reporting and presentation of both organizational and activity-related information and data. It allows participating organizations to provide stakeholders access to aid, development and humanitarian information in a common format.

UN Agency information subject to IATI standards, such as finance, locations, sectors, results and conditions, is vital to planning and progress. Yet it takes considerable time, effort and expertise to structure the data properly and then activate the process for gathering, formatting and vetting it for publication.

That’s the difficult and complex work that UNICC does to understand the situation as it is before and then define what it should be after. UNICC, with its IATI publishing solution, analyses an organization’s data, maps it to the IATI schema, identifies the gaps and gives this mapping tool and information to the organization’s IATI team.

The IATI publishing solution makes it easy to extract the right data from an organization’s databases, format it to the IATI standard and publish it to the IATI Registry. On top of that the solution includes a versatile dashboard that can be branded and structured to give a comprehensive reporting view on the published data.

Financial transparency in humanitarian delivery requires effective tools for data experts to share the right, real-time data for success.

Venkat Venkateswaran, Head, Application Delivery team, CPD, UNICC

IATI has since expanded to over 1,200 organizations, all of which use its standards of transparency. However, its growth as an established measure of reporting translates to many Agencies having to spend valuable time and resources to gather, organize, consolidate and format data for IATI publication. For this purpose, organizations have been seeking a solution from UNICC to vet and organise data and subsequently prepare it for public viewership and use.

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Credit: UNRWA

Multiple organizations are using UNICC’s IATI publishing solution, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN International Trade Centre (ITC), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and others. Services for differing organizations vary from management of existing IATI-compliant dashboards to consolidating data and information across databases and ERPs from scratch.

Transparency is today a fundamental element to have the trust of your donors. Our Clients urgently need tools that can offer stakeholders clear and detailed information on the use of resources and how activities carried out correspond to their Sustainable Development Goals. Thanks to its knowledge of the IATI standard and the capabilities of its agile teams, UNICC has the ability to rapidly assist with IATI publishing readiness to transform all that data into information.

Andrés Abad Rodríguez, Project Manager, UNICC

IATI Publishing Solution
UNICC adopts a staged approach where we first analyze the organization’s data landscape, assessing sources of data and data quality. Upon completion, the team uses the official tested guidance, standards and tools of IATI to assess the Agency’s readiness for IATI publication of data.
UNICC helps map Agency data schema to the IATI framework by properly identifying the gaps and requirements for provision, helping the organization to review the internal data collection and correct identification of the published information.

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Credit: ITC

UNICC developed a two-component solution to address the requests of Clients and Partner Organizations looking for a solution to creating an IATI-compliant formatting output:

  • The IATI Generator to create, validate and publish reports: The IATI Generator pulls data on an organization’s project activities, budgets and expenses from its ERP and financial databases. It then consolidates and configures these data in XML according to the IATI XML Schema and Rulesets with an added IATI Validator engine to check whether its compliance is met.
  • The IATI Dashboard to support the organization’s communications and visual representation of the data published on IATI: The dashboard is created to meet the organization’s branding specifications and to deliver a summary of the information that is published to the IATI Registry. Upon approval of the published data and complementing information, the IATI Dashboard is automatically refreshed.

UNICC’s IATI solution of gathering, organising, compiling and formatting information and data for complying organizations revolutionises the necessary operations for business transparency. For each client, UNICC teams invest the necessary effort to deliver a solution compliant to IATI regulations yet tailored towards the organization’s respective demands.

One example of a successful delivery of the IATI solution is for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN’s IATI Open Project Portal, designed and hosted by UNICC, went live in March 2021 and shows financial information, performance against the IUCN programme goals and contributions towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Viewers are granted insights into annual data on budgets, expenditure, countries, projects and donors, all encapsulated into a user-friendly and intuitive interface. In addition to granular data, donors and stakeholders can visualise where each IUCN initiative, project and programme contributes to key aspects of their mandate, such as business and biodiversity, climate change, ecosystem management and environmental law.

Credit: IUCN

In addition to this public dashboard, UNICC’s solution publishes fully-formatted data and information on IUCN onto the IATI public registry as the prerequisite to adopt IATI standards. Upon publication, this information is displayed alongside that of over 1,200 international humanitarian organizations and NGOs, all in efforts to practice and uphold the standardisation of business transparency.

As a greater number of Client and Partner Organizations sign on for the IATI solution, UNICC amplifies the push towards transparency and digital diplomacy within the international sphere.
The IATI solution is indicative of UNICC’s commitments of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, most notably Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Significant services such as the IATI solution ensures progress of the path towards digital transformation of the UN and its universal mandate.

Photo: UN

UN Digital Solutions Centre Delivers Cashless Payments for the United Nations Booking Hub

The new Clearing House solution leverages Robotic Process Automation to streamline payments and invoicing for UN accommodations in the field

The Clearing House solution seeks to create inter-Agency automated billing for cashless common service payments, with a vision to improve the experience for humanitarian workers in field operations when using UN provided services and innovating the way UN Agencies work today in providing UN accommodations management.

Clementina Dal Cin, UN Booking Hub Accommodation Manager

A WFP medical officer on mission from Rome stays at a guesthouse in Mogadishu, Somalia. She’s able to fulfill her four-day duty work, and, when leaving the guesthouse, sign out without any local currency or sign-out hassles. 

At checkout, the guesthouse manager issues an invoice automatically on the UN Booking Hub with three options for cashless payments: Daily Subsistence Allowance (DSA) reduction, danger pay reduction or salary reduction.

No cash! No bother! It’s just one example of the new and automated payment operations thanks to the UN Booking Hub Clearing House solution.

In the background, and in line with the UN Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, the UN Digital Solution Centre’s new Clearing House solution, using Robotic Process Automation, digitally processes her invoice data. 

Cashless payments and automated invoicing are now available for accommodation services of the UN Booking Hub. Other UN Booking Hub services will join in the upcoming months: passenger mobility and carpooling services, UNHAS flights and UN clinics.

UN Booking Hub numbers

  • 1.3 million savings
  • 200,000 automated invoices
  • 10 UN Agencies
  • Agency guest houses in 50 countries
  • 270+ UN guesthouses
  • 3,200+ UN vehicles
  • 285+ UNHAS flights
  • 70+ UN clinics
  • 110+ UNDSS hotels
  • 35 UN counselors.

The UN Digital Solutions Centre (UN DSC),  a joint project of WFP and UNHCR, together with the UNICC Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence, has delivered a UN Booking Hub Clearing House solution to drive digital innovation for inter-Agency financial services in delivering field-based UN accommodations. 

The vision of the platform is to improve the experience for humanitarian workers in field operations when using UN-provided services by streamlining accommodation logistics and payment details through cashless payments and automated invoicing thorough the digital Clearing House platform.

The Clearing House solution provides needed automation to the existing UN Booking Hub, an inter-Agency platform for UN accommodation management. At full potential on all UN Booking Hub services with all UN partners, the Clearing House solution is expected to generate more than $1.3 million yearly savings and 200,000 saved invoices.

The UN Booking Hub 

The UN Booking Hub, powered by WFP, offers shared services to IOM, IFAD, UNESCO, UNDP, UNDSS, UNFPA, UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Medical Directors (UNMD), WFP and WHO. The 24/7 inter-Agency booking service supports humanitarian workers to deliver last mile aid in the areas of UN accommodations, UN drivers and passenger mobility management, UNHAS flights and UN clinics.

The UN Booking Hub allows staff and managers to book field accommodation services and optimize the guesthouse’s daily management activities. It standardizes business processes, automates request tracking and improves service delivery through real-time monitoring of customer satisfaction. At the same time, it promotes synergies and efficiency gains. It is truly a UN solution for the UN family, designed in accordance with the mutual recognition, costing and customer satisfaction principles. 

The Hub just won the prestigious Fleet Forum Award for its impressive digital innovation in UN passenger mobility services.

The Clearing House Solution

The Clearing House solution, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and blockchain technologies, automates administrative and financial tasks around duty travel accommodations. As a result, it optimises financial and human resources, cuts hundreds of hours of superfluous work, and mitigates risks of fraud and error.

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Photo: UNHCR

The UN Booking Hub used to host separate Agency service providers with their own administrative systems and ERPs. The Clearing House solution offers automation, integration and consolidation of separate systems, transforming administrative and operational procedures with a new level of efficiency and effectiveness.

Built over 2020 and championed at a WFP Innovation boot camp last year (see article), the platform was piloted in April 2021 to WFP guesthouses in Somalia and Sudan, and it will be opened to UNHCR guesthouses in Afghanistan in the following months. 

As of July 2021, the UN Booking Hub now supports 12 Agencies for service provision of over 3,200 UN vehicles, 285 UNHAS flights, 270 UN guesthouses and more. 

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Photo: WFP

Some of the benefits of the Clearing House solution include:

Staff

  • No need to carry cash or local currency to pay for guest house fees
  • No need to change local currency to pay for guest house fees
  • Easier last minute booking or changes for a guest house

Admin and finance officers:

  • No need to handle cash at the field level
  • Automatic parking or posting of guesthouse invoices in Agency ERPs

Agencies

  • Expected higher occupancy in Agency guesthouses with hassle-free payments
  • Time savings from automated invoice processing
  • Reduced risk of error and fraud
  • Gradual increase in cashless payments with more Agencies joining the service
  • Path to more advanced cashless payments (such as credit cards)

UN DSC support has been instrumental in accelerating the time-to-market of the UN Booking Hub Clearing House has been implemented initially with long-time partner UNHCR on reciprocal guesthouses.

Davide Picistrelli, UN Booking Hub Digital Manager

UNICC’s construction of the platform is enabled through its services in Robotic Process Automation, where time-consuming tasks are simplified to automated processes that run the necessary task within seconds.

This eliminates the need for multiple platforms and streams of data for each service provider and consolidates all relevant data to one interface. Its capabilities to organise all invoices, logs and guesthouse availability into respective tabs and search via specific category of invoices present a new clarity and high-level perspective on the otherwise tedious systems of accommodation for users and Agencies. 

Photo: ICJ

Digital Transformation Helps the International Court of Justice Optimise and Secure its Mission

UNICC Continues to Support ICJ’s Technology Programme with Advisory Services, Cloud Computing, Enterprise Applications Upgrades and COVID-19 Support

Digital transformation is critical to the way international organizations do business today and find success in delivering their mandates, with an emphasis on leveraging technology to streamline business systems, do ‘more with less,’ and speed the way to mission success.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is no exception. With its role to settle legal disputes in accordance with international law and provide advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by United Nations entities, the Court also relies on optimised business practices to get its work done.

UNICC and ICJ have worked together to help transform the Court’s digital business landscape. UNICC’s experience and expertise from consulting, strategy and information security to web hosting, content, collaboration and communications continue to shape and transform our technology programme and the business it supports.

Alvaro Flores, Head of the ICT Division, ICJ

Daily productivity improvements, enhanced communications platforms, state-of-the-art collaboration tools and safe and secure systems are key to any digital upgrade.

The ICJ joined the growing UNICC family of organizations in 2016, becoming a Partner Organization the following year, benefiting from UNICC’s expertise and complex knowledge about digital business and technology environments, including innovative technologies, business efficiencies, cost savings and volume discounts based on the scale of engagements.

In line with the UN Secretary-General’s Strategy on New Technologies, UNICC has advised, designed and delivered a number of business optimisations to help ICJ embrace cloud computing, with a refresh of ICJ’s enterprise applications stack and technology services, including business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advisory Support and Technology Workshops

Early on, UNICC assisted the Court with an ICT strategy assessment, architectural technology planning, public website support, network infrastructure assessment, ICT process improvements and Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans. Other areas of improvement included mobility support (smart phones, tablets, laptops, etc.), updates to collaboration platforms (SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange) as well as security assessments and line of business support for legacy applications. Throughout, there were valuable technology assessment workshops to align ICJ’s needed upgrades with industry best practices.

Website Hosting

Since 2017, ICJ hosts its website (www.icj-cij.org) with UNICC using a globally load balanced content delivery network (CDN) and advanced security protection (DDoS).

Enterprise Communications

UNICC provided ICJ with a fully managed messaging and communications system in 2017 with dedicated and fully-redundant Microsoft Exchange 2016 and Skype for Business telephony resulting in cost savings, better integration and 24/7 support.

Workspace Management

In June 2018, UNICC supported ICJ on conducting an on-site and remote assessment in order to understand the current workspace related configurations, feature needs and propose a solution for the implementation and management of Windows 10, Office 365 and related infrastructure.

Systems Safety and Security

UNICC provided security requirements based on industry best practices from the Center for Internet Security, considering the unique computing environment of ICJ. As a result, ICJ took advantage of several UNICC security services, joining the Common Secure Threat Intel Network service, which shares timely, relevant and actionable physical and cyber security threat and incident information, enhancing ICJ’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate risks associated with these threats.

ICJ also subscribed to UNICC’s Common Secure Incident and Event Management (CSIEM) services gather, analyse and present information from network and security devices, including identity and access-management applications, vulnerability management and policy-compliance tools, operating system, database and application logs and external threat data assessment.

The goal was to improve the overall information security operations and to facilitate the detection of abnormal activity and early signs of compromised infrastructure systems. Implementing the SIEM solution was completed successfully by the end of November 2020.

Photo: ICJ

COVID-19 Support

While ICJ and UNICC continued to deliver system upgrades over the past few years, COVID-19 brought  an abrupt change as the Court’s staff and stakeholders suddenly had to work from home. Turning on a dime, UNICC was instrumental in setting ICJ up for users to connect from home with appropriate hardware and software to continue their daily work.

Unified Communications (Microsoft Teams)

In March 2021, ICJ requested UNICC’s support with implementation of Microsoft 365 Teams as a productivity, collaboration, communications and document management tool for the organization.

This entailed a proof-of-concept pilot for telephony (to eventually replace Skype for Business), identity management support and Change, Communications and Learning services from UNICC to help with the adoption of Teams by its  over 300 staff and stakeholders. As a first step, business champions are learning about Teams to help advocate for the business value for the Court’s business processes. The project is still in progress and it is expected to be finished in October.

Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals

UNICC maintains a strategic view of digital business and technology support for international development goals and deliverables around the globe. UNICC’s experience, expertise and complex knowledge means that Clients and Partner Organizations get the top of today’s technology marketplace services with the best value money can buy.

The partnership between ICJ and UNICC clearly supports SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure as well as SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals for a partnership that is growing day by day.

Photo: UNDP Nigeria

New Partner Organization: UNDP Nigeria

UNICC is pleased to announce that United Nations Development Programme Nigeria has been accepted as a UNICC Partner Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for UNDP Nigeria is Emily Bennett.

One of the first initiatives will be to work to host the UNDP Nigeria Jubilee Fellows website at AWS.

The Developing Digital and Tech Solutions Jubilee Fellowship Programme has been created to help 20,000 graduates in their post-COVID-19 job search.

About UNDP Nigeria
UNDP is the UN’s global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. They are on the ground in some 170 countries and territories, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and its wide range of partners.

UNDP has been supporting the Government and people of Nigeria in addressing development challenges, through strengthening and building institutions that promote inclusive sustainable development and democratic governance. They work with an array of partners to support Nigeria to meet its Vision 2020 and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promise.

Palestinian University Students Receive Special Mention in UNICC Data Hackathon

Special Mention for Students of Islamic University of Gaza

One of the great opportunities of working within the UN family is encountering bright minds from all over the globe. Such was the case for the 2021 UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good, especially the participation of Master’s students from the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) in Palestine.

Motaz Saad, a UNICC Data and Analytics team member, Senior Data Scientist at UNRWA and IUG Assistant Professor introduced the hackathon to IUG. Together with the Dean of the School Iyad H. Alshami and the data department, he selected the top performing students in their class to join as one team. Over the next few days, Mohammed El-Agha, Abdullah Abu Nada, Ahmed Abu Amsha and Anas Alsalool entered the international competition and submitted a final solution worthy of a special mention.

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students.

Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge.

Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed opted for Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement on which to build their data-based solution. In the introduction of their presentation to a group of UN judges, mentors and university professors, the team laid out the scope of their work, emphasising that the solution is not simply presenting predictions but also building an implementable plan based on those data-based predictions.

Credit: UNICC

The team then presented their data sources, marking key indicators such as numbers on countries’ fatalities, terrain and geomatics as determinants of which datasets to explore, research and implement into a prediction.

Upon gathering relevant data and comparing and contrasting their findings, the team noticed a noticeable pattern in the graphs of a positive correlation between a country’s high fatality rate and its rate of displacement, especially refugees. Once this pattern was established, the team began to build their data pipeline in order to properly process their data, configure their input and output into X and Y datasets, build their model and ultimately evaluate its results.

Using Syria as a primary example for their findings, Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed compared the effect of the number of fatalities, caused by the nation’s social and political instability to the ultimate number of displaced populations. The time series model the team constructed from the pipeline predicted the number of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers increasing in the next five years, given the continued conflict. The team also observed similar patterns in their predictions for Afghanistan and Mexico.

Following the presentation of their findings, the team evaluated them in their conclusion. One event the team specified to be related to increase in rates of refugees was the Arab Spring of 2011, a series of protests and uprisings in several countries in the Middle East. The team further explained that the fatalities that resulted from periods of political tension such as the Arab Spring are accounted for in other countries’ explanations.

Team IUG, upon presenting to the panel of judges and mentors and in an interview with UNICC, expressed interest in pursuing future opportunities in data science to tackle modern-day issues such as forced displacement.

The opportunity to present our solution with other international teams was highly competitive, but we want to be able to see this hackathon experience as not just a presentation but a means to contribute building real solutions for issues such as forced displacement and migration to make a real difference.

Team IUG, Islamic University of Gaza

Team IUG’s involvement in the UNICC Global Hackathon is indicative of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG 4: Quality Education, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UN Secretary-General Visits the UN Support Base in Valencia

UNICC Takes Part in the Tenth Anniversary Celebration

UNICC is proud to have been a part of the warm welcome to Secretary-General António Guterres to the UN Support Base in Valencia to take part in the celebration of its tenth birthday.

I’m extremely grateful for the work of my colleagues at the UN Support Base in Valencia, Spain. Through the deployment of innovative solutions and digital support, they play a critical role in ensuring we can deliver our work, around the clock and around the world.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The Secretary-General recognised the work of the people at the base, which has expanded beyond the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS, formerly DFS) to include more Agencies, including UNOPS, UNICC, and now UNICEF and IOM.

The UN Support Base hosts the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) to meet the needs of UN peace operations worldwide since 1994. Nowadays, UNGSC’s mandate is to provide critical logistics, geospatial, Information & Telecommunications technologies services and training to all Secretariat Entities, Peacekeeping and Special Political missions, Agencies, Funds and Programmes of the UN system worldwide.

UNICC Director Sameer Chauhan. Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UNICC is the biggest Agency in the base (with nearly 300 personnel in its Centre of Excellence and Common Secure Operations Centre, or CSOC), and is also the biggest UN Agency in Spain. The Centre of Excellence covers many strategic areas of digital business solution delivery, from cyber security, data and analytics, innovative new technologies as well as ongoing operational services. UNICC acknowledges Spain’s efforts to provide the required space to accommodate the continuous growth of the organization.

I want to affirm our commitment to work on the expansion of this centre, attracting more and more the various United Nations Agencies to transform or to continue transforming this centre into the technological and communicational heart of the most important activities that we develop for the benefit of the populations most impacted by the difficult times that we are living.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Celebration participants included among others:

  • António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
  • Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain
  • Ximo Puig, President of the Generalitat Valenciana
  • Carmen Martínez Ramírez, Mayor of Quart de Poblet (the town where the base is located)
  • Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Operational Support, UN Department of Operational Support
  • Giovanna Ceglie, Director of the United Nations Global Service Centre (UNGSC)
  • Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC
  • Michel Bergeron, Head of Premises of the United Nations Information and Communications Technology Facility in Valencia (UNICTF) and Chief of Service for Geospatial, Information and Telecommunications Technologies (SGITT)

The agenda followed the Secretary-General’s itinerary. He was received in the airport by the USG and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The President of the Generalitat de Valencia, the Director of UN GSC, the Director of UNICC and the Mayor of Quart de Poblet met and greeted him.

The Secretary-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs then unveiled a commemorative plaque for the 10th anniversary of the base. The group went to the cafeteria where the Secretary-General was briefed about the expansion of the base and inclusion of new Agencies. In the cafeteria, there was a press briefing by the UN Secretary-General, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The group walked around the cafeteria visiting the booths, including UNICC’s, where the Secretary-General talked with Sameer Chauhan, Prado Nieto, Mati Gil, Esther Ferrer, Liliana Hedges, Martina Kellen and others from UNICC.

In a separate session later that afternoon, the Secretary-General met with the youth of Spain at the City of Arts and Sciences. Among the select group of twenty youth were five UNICC interns.

Young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their future.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

They held a roundtable discussion on topics including reinforcement of multilateralism to fight global challenges and COVID-19, the digital revolution, global inequality, rightful work for youth and action for climate change.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu and UN

The UN Support Base celebratory event was an affirming testament to the good work that UNICC delivers to its more than 70 Clients and Partner Organizations and also provided an opportunity for UNICC to share its success stories and digital business solutions with UN leadership, the Spanish government, the UN Support Base, the town of Quart de Poblet, the city of Valencia, the country of Spain and the wider world.

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Photo: UN RSCE

UN RSCE Robotic Process Automation Telephone Billing Consolidation

The Future Digital Work Force is Here

The UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda (UN RSCE), has among its many missions the consolidation of administrative and support functions previously located in its field missions. This streamlining of administration provides less volatile, more business-friendly regional locations, with the goal of providing efficient, client-oriented and scalable services while reducing the missions’ footprints to UN field missions across Africa. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), through the UNICC Robotic Process Automation Centre (RPA+) was there to help develop and deploy a telephone billing consolidation system.

Robotic Process Automation is the use of software that can be easily programmed to do sequenced, high volume, repetitive tasks across applications. It creates and deploys a software robot that works like a digital assistant, doing routine, complex, rule-based, time-bound tasks that would otherwise eat up employees’ time.

RPA and hyperautomation technologies – what UNICC calls ‘RPA+’ – allow us to call on a digital workforce to help us gain immediate operational efficiencies and get closer to business stakeholders and beneficiaries on the ground. Ultimately, RPA+ helps Clients and Partner Organizations build better to deliver on their mandates.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

The Regional Project and Implementations Unit in the Field Technology Services of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE) has now successfully deployed two Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects in the past three years, both of which have been in the Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU).

In African peacekeeping missions, RPA was pioneered in RTBU through a Proof of Concept in 2018, followed by a full-fledged deployment in March 2021. RTBU was a logical place to start, given that it processes massive amounts of data: over 100,000 bills in FY2018/2019, translating into over 9,000,000 rows of data.

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Photo: UN RSCE

Before embarking on any automation, all of the complex process steps have to be identified at a granular level. Fortunately, RTBU had their internal processes well documented with sufficient detail. One aspect that was not captured in the process maps, however, was offline tasks. In particular, there is the requirement to handle, process and standardise documents received in different formats into a standard template, which used to take significant effort, time and resources on the part of the units.

With the RTBU processes clearly defined, the Regional Project and Implementations Unit partnered with UNICC for the development and deployment of an automated bot. The bot accesses the target files for processing from an input folder in SharePoint. Upon processing, successful files are moved to an output folder with exceptions, audit logs and performance reports being maintained in separate folders.

UNICC was responsible for process assessment, development, testing, Production deployment, associated license procurement, onboarding Orchestrator service for relevant bot, infrastructure hosting, administer and support for the RPA Process candidates and agile project management in the United Nations Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU) of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (UN RSCE).

RPA has allowed for automated multiple, time-consuming offline processes by converting telephone bills received from over 16 missions in over 25 formats into a single standard format that is compatible with the Unit’s telephone billing platform. This means that there is now visibility for every single row of every single bill that has gone through RPA, which is projected to generate thousands of dollars a month in savings through enhanced recoveries.

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Photo: Zanders

The result is greater speed and accuracy in performing repetitive, high-volume tasks, freeing time for staff to focus on more productive, analytical tasks. In addition, there are additional benefits like time stamps and an audit trail for previously offline actions that are performed outside the telephone billing platform.

RPA efficiency gains:

  • Significant cost recoveries during the first year of operation
  • Formats over half a million rows of data per hour
  • Fully compatible with Microsoft 365
  • 50 staff hours a month saved on manually formatting documents
  • 100% accuracy in converting/formatting bills
  • Supports 24 document formats
  • Generates a real-time audit trail in MS SharePoint for a process that was previously undocumented
  • Improves staff morale
  • Easily scalable to handle larger volumes and formats of data
  • The concept is transferable to offices using structured data.

UNICC’s RPA and hyperautomation technologies have allowed the UN RSCE to call on a digital workforce to help deliver administrative and operational efficiencies, allowing regional staff to get closer to the business and deliver more efficiently on their work packages, thus helping the RSCE to best to deliver on its mission and mandates.

Photo: UNV/Nazaroğlu

Application Integration Services and BI Support for United Nations Volunteers

The spirit of altruism and volunteering is a core tenet of the United Nations, where individuals around the world can contribute to the UN goals of universal betterment in progressive social, environmental and economic transformation. Volunteerism in the UN is championed especially by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, an organization that works with partners to integrate volunteers into development programming and promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism.

We count on UNICC for expertise and experience in delivering application integration services. The data dashboards now in place help to prioritise the business intelligence the business needs for us to change and grow with the times.

Frederic Le Maistre, Chief Information Officer, UNV

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is a UNICC Client, supported with a myriad of services ranging from infrastructure hosting to digital transformation, ICT strategy support, Robotic Process Automation and application integration support and development.

UNICC’s services supporting UNV also benefit its 9,400 volunteers, 150 staff across six regional offices and 60 field units. Additionally, UNV is under the administrative domain of UNDP and consists of an Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, all also UNICC Clients and Partner Organizations.

UNV partnered with UNICC to implement Application Integration services and Business Intelligence support from UNICC’s Data and Analytics team. Beginning in 2018, the project entailed the planning, gathering and consolidating of essential business data and analytics for UNV’s Finance department. Several of these deliverables consisted of:

  • Streamlining usage and flows of various data structures to prioritise strategic targets
  • Supporting and fine-tuning existing SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages to optimise performance
  • Developing a BI data model and reports using various data sources including SSAS tabular and Power BI, which also needed to be embedded in existing UNV applications
  • Design and build customised dashboard and reports for external audiences
  • Build integrated reports for existing UNV applications (using Power BI embedded)
  • Validate and ensure configurations and parameters of various data sources for various UNV applications
  • Performance improvements for reports.

Technologies include SQL Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server, Power BI Premium and Pro with a Microsoft Azure Infrastructure.

Due to the smooth delivery of the BI project support service in 2018, UNICC signed on to continue to support UNV in October of 2020 to provide business analyses and gather critical data on major reports, including financial, contribution, status and donor reports, among many others.

For each report which the UNICC team members consolidated and published for UNV, they offered and ensured valuable insights and data on the required maintenance and improvements, with one year resiliency on the information included. The trusted partnership of UNV and UNICC not only strengthens the functions of an organization catered towards service but also exemplifies the result of meaningful coordination.

Photo: UNV

Across the successful deliverables and impactful team collaboration, UNICC’s BI support for UNV demonstrate the importance of the health of internal organizational structures. The robust data analytics and newly advanced internal reports amplify UNV’s capabilities to manage its missions in providing volunteers to hundreds if not thousands of UN initiatives around the globe.

Moreover, UNICC’s partnership with UNV paves a way for UNICC to contribute to the spirit of volunteerism for the UN mission and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals.

Photo: UNITAD

UNITAD and UNICC: Innovative Technology and Partnerships for International Criminal Investigations

The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) joined the UNICC family as a Partner Organization in August 2020. The partnership has quickly advanced to support data management for accountability in UNITAD criminal investigations, with UNICC offering Microsoft Azure hosting services, development, data and cognitive services.

UNITAD is an independent, impartial investigative team, mandated by the United Nations Security Council to support efforts to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes. Based in Baghdad, Iraq, UNITAD was established as a unanimous response from the international community to a request for assistance from the Government of Iraq. UNITAD is headed by Special Adviser Karim A. A. Khan QC.

The collection and preservation of evidence related to ISIL crimes presents a variety of challenges, but with these challenges comes opportunity. The criminality of Da’esh, and the quantity and variety of the evidence left behind, necessitated new thinking and new investigative approaches. UNITAD needed to chart new ground, and I was determined that innovation and advanced technology must supplement more established approaches to grappling with mass data sets and vast quantities of documentary, video, photographic, electronic and testimonial evidence.

Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team

UNITAD’s innovative and technology-focused approach to the collection and analysis of evidence of ISIL crimes was welcomed by United Nations Member States in an Arria Formula Meeting of the Security Council this month, chaired by the United Kingdom. The session highlights the value of advanced technology and partnership in providing accountability to meet UNITAD’s criminal investigations mandate (see meeting recording here).

We are proud to be working with UNITAD, UN OICT and Microsoft to harness innovation, data and analytics to assist UNITAD in fulfilling its mandate to deliver justice for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

UNICC Contributions

UNICC Data and Analytics, Application Development and Cloud Infrastructure teams supported the collection, preservation and storing of evidence in the form of images, audio, video and digital text files that has been recovered from sources on the field.

This data helps serve as evidence in independent criminal proceedings to hold members of ISIL accountable for the crimes they may have committed.

The Data and Analytics team led the development of a data pipelines build-out using cloud AI technologies and enabled, AI enriched content to gain an understanding of content for investigators.

UNITAD Charting New Ground in Criminal Investigations

UNITAD reflects that, if harnessed properly, technology resources can bring about a paradigm shift in how the world approaches international criminal investigations: integrating innovative technology not as a stand-alone platform but as an integrated process focused on organization, screening and analysis of evidence.

UNITAD has sought to leverage advanced technology in every aspect of its work, with designing innovative solutions in-house or partnering with leading technology companies like UNICC and Microsoft Corporation. In particular, an evidence lifecycle management platform known as ELMS was developed in-house, allowing investigators to collect and record evidence directly from their computers or mobile phones. Advanced forensic tools are used to unlock and analyse cell phone data.

The solution can process more than 250,000 passwords per second; it can also perform ballistic analysis from ammunition retrieved from crime scenes. To date, the investigative team has collected more than 50 terabytes of data and tens of millions of files. The UNITAD team quickly realized that the daunting challenges presented by this enormous and complex collection of evidence could only be addressed with innovative technology.

The UNITAD Special Advisor secured much needed support to develop a digital data platform from UNICC, UN OICT and Microsoft. The solution was based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to process and enrich UNITAD’s evidence collection standards. These joint cognitive services coupled with UNITAD’s custom-trained models allow for data enrichment pipelines (see white paper here).

The organizations worked together to develop an advanced evidence-analysis solution that leverages Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services and integrates with the relativity evidence review and analysis platform. This partnership not only helps UNITAD fulfill its mandate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, but it creates new business opportunities that its partners can take to other entities facing similar challenges. At the same time, UNITAD lever­aged existing relationships with UNICC and UN OICT for infrastructure, development data and security expertise.

UNITAD created an animation on the partnership solution featuring the UNITAD team as well as Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC and Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President of Tech for Social Impact Group, Microsoft Corporation with Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team, UNITAD.

The result is not only transformative for UNITAD’s work, but may also be a model for partnerships with the private sector to enhance criminal accountability initiatives.

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